Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Brexit Vote - Get a Grip!

If you read the newspapers, even The New York Times, and listened to the media in the first few days after the Brexit vote, you would have thought that the vote to exit the EU meant the end of the world as we know it and a financial downturn.  But neither is even remotely true.

The vote to exit the EU does probably mean a major change or disruption for those living in Great Britain.  Most directly, it will have a pervasive negative impact on the economy, which translates to a loss of jobs and a worsening of people’s financial well-being.  All the talk by Brexit supporters about how Britain will benefit economically and financially from  this action has already been discounted or minimized by them after the vote.  It was all a big lie, but that’s politics.

But for the rest of the world, it’s quite another matter.  The EU will continue to muddle along, with or without Britain.  It was certainly never a driving force for holding the EU together; that’s been the role of Germany and France.  Yes, it means some change in trade with Britain, but probably nothing serious.

The Times spoke about it upending the post-WW II system of European relations.  Hardly!  Britain did not join the EU until 1973, and it never adopted the Euro currency.  The idea behind the EEC (the predecessor of the EU) was to link the countries of Europe so inextricably, first economically, that wars such as had occurred in the past would be virtually impossible.  Since the main antagonists have always been Germany and France, it not impacted at all by the vote.

Unless the Brexit vote encourages other European countries to do likewise, the EU will continue to perform it’s valuable function. (There has always been discontent among many with the EU, and with some good reason.  But on balance, the positive impact always has won the day, and will continue to do so unless the vote is put to the people in a referendum.  Then all bets are off.)  The EU has other problems with potentially more serious impact on its continued viability than the exit of Britain.

As for the United States, Britain may be a vital ally both militarily and financially, but a marginally weaker Britain will not seriously impact the U.S.’ interests at all.  It may make the politics of dealing with the EU more difficult without an inside friend to argue our case, but that may have the positive advantage of our being more careful at how we cultivate our relations with Germany and France, especially.

But while the whole media reaction is somewhat silly, it could have done real harm.  Investors and financial markets have been very volatile this past year and are easily spooked.  By all this fear-mongering, it was feeding the impulse of investors in financial markets around the world to view this change with alarm and to overreact, creating a truly dangerous situation which could have had a real negative impact.  Thankfully, however, after a few days, the markets realized this was much ado about nothing, and have stabilized.

This raises the question of why the media have treated the Brexit vote in the manner they have.  I have the feeling that all this fear-mongering by the media has only one real aim … to sell newspapers and increase media market share.  We are long since past the age when journalism was taken seriously and practiced with ethical standards.  In the modern world, for media as for all other corporations, the only relevant question seems to be, “What sells?”  And I am certainly not the first commentator who has pointed out the dangerous portent that provides for our future well-being.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Incompetent Response by Police in Orlando?

At 2 am, the gunman started shooting in an outdoor area.  At some point not too long thereafter, the timing has not been indicated, the uniformed security officer on site and several police officers opened fire on the gunman who then retreated into the club, apparently holing up in a bathroom with numerous hostages.

Three hours later, around 5 am, the police went in following an armored vehicle which broke a hole in the wall.  In the ensuing firefight, the police shot the gunman dead.

CNN states that the police said they had to wait three hours to assess the situation, get armored vehicles on the scene and make sure they had enough personnel.  This seems beyond incompetent; it exhibits almost callous disregard for the safety of those the police are sworn to protect.  

You have a gunman who has already killed many people before retreating into the building where there are more potential victims.  He has phoned 911 and declared allegiance to ISIS.  Obviously this is a very disturbed, deranged, dangerous man, even if he sounded “calm” in a phone conversation with the police.

Supporters of the police’s response say that this was a hostage situation, and the normal rule is that you don’t blast in for fear of causing loss of life; instead you talk to the gunman.  But this was not a “normal” hostage situation.  He had killed the majority of his victims before going inside and creating a hostage situation.  And the police were not in regular contact with him, talking with him.  And ISIS is known for having no tolerance for homosexuals and executing them.

If the CNN statement is a correct paraphrase of what the police said, then I think it’s clear that the policy waited not because they wanted to protect the lives of those inside, but because they wanted the maximum protection for themselves when they went in to confront the lone gunman.

I know that police are not trained in the same way the military are.  Nevertheless, when the situation calls for it, they need to be warriors and protect those they are charged to protect without over-concern for their own safety.  My assessment of the reports I’ve read is that they did not display courage or heroism.

Given the world we live in, police around the country should have clear and uniform directions as to how to respond to various terrorist situations, and they should have the training to enable them to carry out such directions.   These directions should probably come from the FBI.  Further, once such a situation develops, someone from the FBI or military should immediately be put in charge of the operation or at the very least advise the local police what action they should take.

(This post was delayed due to its submission as an op-ed piece elsewhere.)

Friday, June 17, 2016

We Can't Change People, But We Can Control Access to Guns

Why is gun control essential?  Because people are people; many suffer and lash out, some become violent. We can't control people's psychology and what they do or say.  But we can control the availability of weapons that enable them to kill and injure.

The tragedy in Orlando raises many questions, the most basic being whether there is any end or limit to man’s inhumanity to man.  And with this term, I’m not just referring to horrific acts of mass violence such as the Orlando shootings but also the violence that occurs every day, whether randomly inflicted on strangers or directed at someone the perpetrator has a grudge against.  Based on the evidence we see or hear on almost a daily basis, one has to say, no.

Although in posts I have set forth a way to end this epidemic of inhumanity … to make people humane again … it is not a very practical expectation (see “Creating a Safer World for Our Children.”).  No, we must take it as fact that there really is no end or limit to man’s inhumanity to man.

If we can’t stop people from being inhumane, then our only option if we want to end the suffering caused by these acts of inhumanity is to control the tools they use to inflict harm.  (For the purpose of this post, I’m going to limit the discussion to acts of inhumanity that involve physical violence.  The cruel psychological violence that people inflict on each other on a daily basis is also inhumane - see the above referenced post - but that's another matter.)

When we look at the statistics, we see that in the United States guns are the weapon of choice in physically violent acts:  67.7 percent of all murders, 41.3 percent of robberies and 21.2 percent of aggravated assaults were conducted with guns.  Each year more than 30,000 people are killed by firearms in the US (about 1/3 are murders, the rest suicides), compared to less than 200 in Canada and the countries of Europe.

Without any question, if we want to end the suffering caused by all this violence we must get rid of the guns that are so readily available.  But what to do about the opposing claim of gun rights and the newly-Supreme-Court-declared 2nd Amendment individual right to bear arms?

People definitely have the right to guns used for hunting and self-defense.  Until recent times that meant a traditional rifle for hunting and some type of pistol for self-defense.  People were able to hunt very successfully with their rifles … if anything it was more of a pure sport … and people were able to defend themselves.

The newer type of automatic guns and assault weapons that are available, with large capacity clips, have added absolutely nothing to the ability to hunt or to defend oneself.  It may give a hunter a bigger charge to be handling these newer guns, but that’s no reason to make them available given the harm that they can inflict.  And automatic pistols have not been shown to be more effective for self-defense that a regular pistol.  It just gives the person a psychological feeling of greater safety.

So, I would argue that given that we cannot change man’s inhumanity to man, all automatic weapons, whether guns or rifles, should be taken off the general market.  They should only be available to the military, police, and others who need such high-powered weapons in the performance of their responsibilities.

Regular guns and rifles should continue to be available to the general public as they are now, with of course appropriate background checks, etc.  All loopholes should be closed.  No one should be able to by a firearm without the required background check.

I know that one cannot expect to stop gun violence by taking all but regular rifles and pistols off the general market, even with effective background checks.  People can still turn violent and those firearms can still be used to great effect in ways other than hunting and self-defense.  But given the place of guns in American culture … the United States is not England or other countries where gun ownership is rare and traditionally strictly controlled … that’s the most that we can expect our government and people to accommodate for the greater good.

But the fact that gun control measures will not eliminate firearm violence is no argument against taking those steps.  Fewer deaths and injuries, especially from these mass shootings, is better than things continuing unchanged.

The NRA says that guns don’t kill people, people kill people.  And while that’s undeniably true … the core problem is the inhumanity of man … it is also true that without automatic weapons fewer people would be killed or suffer grievous injury.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

White Working Class - The Republican Base?

While reading a recent New Yorker, I came upon a sentence that made me stop in disbelief.  “The base of the [Republican] Party, the middle-aged white working class, …”

I was aware that many working class whites had become Reagan Democrats and that many were at the heart of the Tea Party’s strength.  But that things had gone so far that this part of the traditional Democratic base had now become the Republican base stopped me in my tracks.  Was this true?  What in the world had happened?  

As I thought through my answer to this question, I sadly realized that it was true and how it came to be.  The factors:  economic woes, race, class/elitism/intelligence.

The Democratic Party has been the party of the “common” person for most of its history in that it has championed the rights of the worker, immigrants, and the poor.  Whereas the Republican Party has been the party of the moneyed establishment and was (and still is) steadfastly against any advancement in the rights of the lower classes, including workers.  Not surprisingly, the Democrats were rewarded with the loyal votes of white working-class America.

The first break in this alliance came with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 under the leadership of President Johnson and the Democrat-controlled Congress.  Working class whites in the South, together with many white collar whites, left the Democratic Party in droves and became the key to the solid Republican South.  The percentage of working class whites voting Democratic in 1960 and 1964 was 55%; in 1968 and 1972, 35%

While this situation improved during the 70s because of Watergate and a sharp recession, the defection returned with the presidential candidacy of Ronald Reagan.  White northern and midwestern working class men had begun feeling the pinch of stagnating wages and the loss of jobs.  They were attracted to the “can do it” energy of Reagan, his patriotism, and just him as a person.  He was not an intellectual; he was someone they could relate to.  The Democratic candidates during the period, by comparison, did not have charisma, nor exude energy, nor were they flag-waving patriotic … and they were definitely intellectual and spoke like it.

The economic problems of the white working class also increased their resentment over Democratic support for things like affirmative action, welfare, and women’s rights.  They saw the Party as going to bat for everyone but them.   And so again in 1980 and 1984, working class whites voted Democratic only 35%.

While Bill Clinton (who was more down-to-earth and not so intellectual) did somewhat better, the numbers again went down with Al Gore and John Kerry.  And that has continued in 2008 and 2012 with Obama.

Pre-Civil Rights Act, the issues binding the white working class and the Democratic Party were economic.  In that period, Democratic progressivism was mostly about economic prosperity.  Post-Civil Rights Act, the issues driving them away were their worsening economic situation and the Democratic’s new emphasis on social liberalism, including most recently the advancement of gay rights.

The white working class has always been conservative on social issues.  During the past 40 years they have also come to feel that the Republicans will do a better job with the economy.  And so even though the Republican Party has never shown any real interest or caring for the plight of the working class and instead has done the bidding of corporate America, whose interests are usually diametrically opposed to that of the working class, we see this continued phenomenon of working people voting against their economic interests.

There is evidence that with the Trump candidacy this trend will only increase.   Through his outrageous statements regarding Latino immigration as well as his support for protectionist policies to protect American jobs, he may be attracting even greater white working class support.  

For example. it was reported that in one depressed county in Pennsylvania, working class white Democrats are “flocking to Trump.”  Before the primary, 4,647 Democrats and independents in Luzerne County switched their registration to Republican, nearly four times the number of Republicans and independents who changed their registration to Democrats.  One caveat about this example, since Luzerne County is in the coal region, Hillary Clinton’s ill-advised and much publicized comment about putting a lot of coal miners out of work may have more to do with this switch than Trumps comments.  Nevertheless it is troubling.

In the forward to the 2011 edition of We Still Hold These Truths, I noted the following about the plight of the working class.  (Many today may be surprised to hear blue collar workers referred to as part of the middle class, but for decades they were because their unions provided them with very-well-paying jobs.)

“The middle class is made up mostly of nonprofessionals … people with only a high school degree. As manufacturing and other middle class jobs have disappeared, their standard of living and the quality of their lives has been drifting downward. The recent recession only exacerbated the trend. In March 2011, 12 percent of those with only a high-school diploma were unemployed compared to 4.5 percept of those with college degrees and 2 percent for those with professional degrees. The greatest impact has been on men … in 1967, 97 percent of men 30-50 years old in this cohort were employed; in 2010, just 76 percent were. Not only has this resulted in economic problems for these men and their families, these pressures have brought about greater interpersonal stress, with a resulting increase in divorce rates and other examples of social dysfunction. The greater income inequality that developed during this period has also resulted in heightened actual and felt lifestyle differences between the middle class and those with more income and education.”

I wrote then that the world the working class knew since WWII has been turned upon down resulting in them being scared, angry, and alienated.  I chided Democrats for not highlighting this important shift in the American social fabric.  They talked about the need to protect the middle class (everyone always does), but the evisceration that had already occurred was not mentioned … Democrats had and have not shown that they feel the pain of the working class …  and practical measures to reverse the trend are not much of anything.

This year, Hillary (assuming she is the nominee) must show that she feels the pain of the working class.  She must distance herself from her Wall Street backers and show that she is willing to fight for measures to protect workers and bring back jobs, even if those measures are against corporate interests.  Although at this point it may well already be too late.  Hillary has been around long enough that people already have a very fixed opinion of her which new-sounding words from her can probably not effectively overcome.

Also, as I have been urging for years, Democrats must expose Republicans for the hypocrites they are.  They never have and they never will do anything to support the American working class.  Trump may make noises that appeal to the working class, but his policies are not Republican Party policies and they will never be enacted.

Even if Hillary can win without these votes because of the changing electoral demographic, the American worker cannot be left in the dust. They are in pain.  They are a natural part of the Democratic Party’s constituency.  Their well-being is important to the economic stability and health of our society.  Republicans will in the end do nothing to help ease their pain.  Democrats must step up to the plate.